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Obituary Arno Herzberg, JTA’s Man in Berlin on Eve of World War II, is Dead at 94

January 4, 2002
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Arno Herzberg, who headed JTA’s bureau in Berlin in the years before World War II, died Saturday in his New Jersey home at the age of 94.

Managing the bureau of the international news agency from 1934 to 1937, at which point the Gestapo shut the office down, Herzberg straddled the responsibilities of a Jew and a journalist in the Nazi era.

He tried to boost morale and provide critical information to his brethren — without providing insight for Nazi consumption — while working under intense censorship.

As the general press churned out Nazi-soaked propaganda, most Jews stopped reading those papers, turning instead to the Jewish press.

Circulation of Jewish papers doubled and tripled, and the burden of providing any substantive or good news was a task that weighed heavily on Herzberg and his fellow Jewish editors.

"We tried again and again to keep up the spirit of the Jews in a way that made any news item a tool for maintaining morale under the most trying circumstances," Herzberg wrote in his memoir.

"Any achievement of a Jew in any country, any decoration or elevation of an individual Jew provided a lift of the spirit to readers," he wrote, noting for example that Jewish Nobel Prize winners "were a source of pride at a time when the Jews were being told every day how inferior they were."

At the same time, Herzberg tried to alert the Jewish community to developments while not causing panic and a mass rush to emigrate — which could strangle the already narrow escape routes.

He was required to send JTA’s daily bulletin to four Nazi authorities. Herzberg was often forced to retract stories and even death notices, which might have intimated evidence of the concentration camps, which the Nazis denied existed.

One of the most angst-ridden memories Herzberg recounted was when Adolf Eichmann inquired about the continuation of an interrupted series he had written on the organizational structure of world Jewry.

Although Herzberg’s parents perished in the concentration camps, he escaped to the United States in 1938.

He "didn’t have very fancy jobs," when he first arrived here, said his son, Peter, an attorney.

He swept the floor of Goodmans Noodles factory in New York and measured graves in a New Jersey cemetery, he said.

Although he held a law degree and was a judge in Germany — a post that was revoked when Hitler came to power — German law wasn’t transferable to the United States.

And Peter Herzberg suspects his father didn’t return to journalism because his experience in Berlin had been so traumatic.

He studied accounting at Rutgers University and became a self-employed accountant, with an expertise in capital gains taxes.

He wrote a book in 1957, "Saving Taxes Through Capital Gains," and testified before congressional committees on the subject.

Throughout his life in the United States, he remained close with his childhood friends from a non-Zionist Jewish youth movement in Germany.

Almost every Sunday, they would meet in Herzberg’s home to recount their work as German Jewish organizers and leaders in the Nazi era and their continued involvement in reparations for German Jewry.

An obituary Herzberg wrote for himself begins, "In more than one instance, his life was governed by the upheaval of the century" and he described some of his personal brushes with history’s uglier moments — like when a legal book he wrote on quotas was removed from all German libraries because of its Jewish authorship.

According to Peter Herzberg, "His articles and his views were, for the most part, a few years ahead of his time. And he had a remarkable ability to isolate an issue of controversy for public debate."

But his son continued: "His real concern in life was Jewish posterity, for Jewish survival in Israel and in America."

In addition to Peter, 51, Herzberg is survived by his wife, Annelie; his other son, Steven, 57; and five grandchildren.

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